I’m working on a social science writing question and need an explanation to help me study.
1. Review the “Cornell Notes”.
2. Then read “Sacred Ritual” e-lecture
3. Complete Cornell notes on Sacred Ritual” e-lecture and submit.
E-Lecture: Sacred Ritual
E-Lecture: Sacred Ritual
Rituals are found in every human community and are a primary way of communication and cohesion. A ritual is a significant action.
Religious rituals are defined as “an agreed on an formalized pattern of ceremonial movements and verbal expressions carried out in a sacred context.”
Religious rituals can serve as “condensed symbols” because they express several layers of meanings and the meaning may not be immediately obvious, but hidden, even to the participants.
Ritual is at the heart of religion and some scholars (but not all) believe that ritual is more important than myth or doctrine.
Ritual is universal- it appeals to the whole person. A person’s body, speech, and senses are involved in ritual. Ritual brings together the totality of a person, and also brings together a community, making it more cohesive.
Social Scientists of religion believe in the functionalist approach to religion- that is, they want to look at how ritual functions in the lives of those who participate in them. They believe that ritual serves important social and psychological functions for the believers.
- rituals may ease anxiety or to strengthen the social order
- rituals can legitimize the transition from one stage of life to another
- ritual can routinize behavior and help reduce uneasiness associated with the loss of boundaries
- ritual can resolve social tension
Rituals also can dramatize a community’s archetypal patterns of belief and behavior (or cosmology) and therefore legitimizes the beliefs and behaviors.
Ritual is performative. In other words, through its repetition, it reinforces the belief or behavior.
Not all scholars agree with the functionalist approach to studying religious rituals, and the down fall of functionalist theories is that they reduce religious rituals to something other than religion by looking at the social or psychological functions (but not necessarily the religious).
Some scholars, who work outside of functionalist theories, note that rituals sometimes do not serve a practical purpose. Some rituals are like a play and do not distinguish between fantasy and reality. Some rituals lead believers into an imaginary “other world.”
Types of Sacred Ritual
There is no agreed upon typology of rituals among scholars but there are some general distinctions between rituals that make talking about them in categories easier.
Rituals are sometimes talked about in terms of whether they are corporate, domestic or personal. Also, rituals are differentiated in terms of whether they are based on the cycle of nature and seasons or whether they re-create a historical of mythological event.
Rituals are talked about in terms of whether they are life cycle rituals, which include rituals of birth, initiation into adulthood, marriage or death, or if they are rituals that are not cyclical but still are associated with life events, often crisis, such as healing or rainmaking rituals.
Arnold van Gennep originally pointed out that many rituals are connected with critical events in the life of individuals. According to him, life cycle rituals help people through the difficulties of critical transitions, and assist society in accepting changes in the status or loss of members. Other scholars also add that life cycle rituals give insight into the values of the community.
van Gennep called these life cycle rituals rites of passage and claimed that a three stage pattern is usually revealed.
- the first stage removes individuals from their old status. This can be done by physical separation or a simulation of death.
- the second stage is called the transition stage and usually consists of social isolation and a type of statusless state, or a limbo.
- the third stage of the rite of passage ritual is a reincorporation where the passage to a new status or social life begins and is usually marked with a new ring, insignia or piece of clothing.
Victor Turner took van Gennep’s stages and elaborated on them, paying particular attention to the second stage, which Turner called the liminal stage. For Turner, the liminal stage represents anti-structure in a hierarchical, structured community. It is a stage of isolation and darkness where the person is stripped of status, which symbolizes the loss of rank. In order to reach communitas, which is the spontaneous bond of communion between members of a society, individuals must be stripped of their status before being elevated to a new status and being reunited with their community. For Turner, one must be stripped of status in order to break through the structure of the society, which will ultimately lead to a common human bond between members of the community. This is considered holy or sacred, the attainment of communitas.
Life cycle rites can be observed in every religion but they vary from religion to religion.
Initiation rites are among the most important religious rituals and include initiation into adulthood, as well as into secret societies and special vocations (kings, priests, etc.)
Initiation into adulthood does not always coincide with physical puberty, but can happen younger, especially for boys. However, many social puberty rites do have to do with the transition from the asexual childhood into adulthood that is marked with sex role differences.
Rites into adulthood reveal a common pattern: 1. initiates are isolated and their behavior is restricted. 2. initiates undergo certain ordeals to test their ability for new responsibilities. 3. initiates are instructed in the secret knowledge of the community and shown sacred objects. 4. initiates are given the insignia of their new status and formally recognized as having made the transition. One example of this pattern can be found in fraternity and sorority initiations.
Rites into adulthood also often include the physical mutilation of the body- circumcision for boys and clitoridectomy for girls in some communities. Tattoos, piercings, paintings, etc. can be part of this.
Vocational Initiation Rites
In many societies there are rituals for those who show that they have a special ability to understand sacred mysteries or are gifted with spiritual powers. Examples would be nuns, priests, Buddhist monks, tribal chiefs, etc.
Initiations into these vocations follow the same pattern of separation, transition and reincorporation.
Marriage and Funeral Rites
Marriage involves numerous customs and taboos and is usually considered a holy estate in societies. Rituals include throwing rice, tying knots, segregating the bride and groom before the ceremony, as well as a sustained time of separation for the couple after the ceremony, etc. Each ritual symbolizes something depending upon the community.
Funeral rites are also important because most religions believe that death is merely a passage from one threshold of existence to another or a liminal period before a new birth.
Life-Crisis Rites: A Healing Ritual
Life crisis rites are non-periodic, in other words, they do not follow at particular times but during certain times of need. Usually, they are rituals that are performed to meet the needs of the community and individual and can be for illness, miscarriage, failure to hunt, drought, etc.
In primal societies, it is believed that illness is brought about by supernatural beings. Therefore, it is believed that spiritual leaders can help heal people, such as priests, medicine men, exorcists, diviners, and shamans.
One such spiritual leader is called a shaman. A shaman, which is commonly found in Native American religions and in Siberia, is able to undergo altered states and can leave his body to travel to the world of spirits and serve as a healer. The shaman protects the community by warding off demons and disease.
Calendar or Seasonal Rituals
Calendar and seasonal rituals are closely associated with the changes in nature and are marked publicly all over the world. In agricultural societies, these rituals mark planting, first fruits and harvest times. In historical religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, these rites mark historical events (birth of Jesus, Jewish Passover) but actually trace their roots to the annual cycle of the seasons.
Seasonal rituals are always about the well being of the community and individual. There is a common ritual structure.
- mortification- symbolizing the end of a year and the not yet assurance of the next year.
- purgation- the community seeks to rid itself of physical and moral contagions which might impair the prosperity of the upcoming year.
- invigoration- the community attempts to secure the new lease on life through its own efforts.
- jubilation- the sense of relief when the new year has begun and their lives are continued
Ritual and Sacrifice
Seasonal and calendar rituals usually include ritual acts of sacrifice. What is the religious purpose of sacrifice? There are three main theories.
- E.B. Tylor believed that sacrifice evolved through three stages that usually focused on the ritual participant trying to win the favor of the gods: gift-giving, which obligated the receiver (the god) to act in kind, homage, this is similar to gift-giving in that the giver seeks to gain the goodwill and protection of the god, and abnegation or renunciation, which expresses only self-denial without an expectation of “in-kind” from the god(s). For Tylor, renunciation was the highest form of sacrifice.
- W. Robertson Smith focused on how sacrifice secured a social bond. He pointed out that with a sacrificial ritual, a sacred feast or meal was usually included. The meal served to establish a union between the god and the participants, and also strengthened the bonds between participants.
- The most important function of sacrifice is thought to be expiation, which is the making of amends or atonement for transgression. These sacrificial rites assume some offense against the sacred that must be repaired by ridding the community of the pollution. Life can NOT be restored simply by good works, but must also include self-sacrifice. Life must be offered in order for life to be preserved. The community is defiled and must reconcile with the sacred.
In order to reconcile, the community must have a representative, or scapegoat, that can represent the entire tribe or nation and can be its sin bearer. Note that this is a different definition than how scapegoat is commonly used, usually to refer to blaming someone. This type of scapegoat stands in for everyone in the community, in order to represent them, and removes the taint from the community by their self-sacrifice. This usually involves the sacrifice and death of the victim.
Rites of atonement follow a threefold structure. 1. the rite begins with a ceremonial offering. 2. the offering is a genuine representative and consists of an actual sacrifice where the representative dies. 3. receiving of new life or resurrection, which is symbolized by a common meal or feast.
Recently, in addition to the three main theories of ritual and sacrifice that have dominated scholarly writing, is another theory that stages that violence is deeply rooted in human behavior and that sacrifice, in the ancient world, produced human solidarity. In other words, a bloody, violent killing atoned for the wrong of the violent human community and brought humans together. The use of a representative, or scapegoat, helps keep violence outside of the community.
Some scholars believe that all religious ritual has its origin in the representative sacrificial victims and that all great human institutions are founded on religious ritual.
Rituals as Sacraments
All religious ritual is sacramental because it is concerned with the presence of the sacred or holy.
A sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Sacraments do not simply represent the sacred, but they also are performative, so they are actions that work. A valid sacrament always leaves the situation different from what it was (marriage ceremony, baptism, etc.).
The sacrament functions as a causal power beyond its psychological effects. So, although it is a rite, it is also effecting change.
Sacraments are also meticulously performed at particular times and the regularity and consistency in their performance helps make them effective and meaningful.